It took 400 years in the making but for the past 60 years there has been a relentless bombardment of campaigns, medical evidence and legislation to wean the public off this legal drug.
So just what were Christopher Columbus, John Hawkins and Sir Walter Raleigh thinking when they decided to introduce the evil weed aka tobacco to the unsuspecting public?
Well of course back then they didn’t have a clue as to the health implications, it was something new and exciting and was consumed exclusively by the royal court and sea faring heroes so the ruling elite saw it as being a novel and stimulating pastime. Sir Walter Raleigh even became an addict and persuaded Queen Elizabeth to have a puff or two and as the fashion took off amongst the gentry, Elizabeth wasted no time in putting a two pence tax on the imported leaf.
“loathsome to the eye, dangerous to the lung”
However, the next royal, King James I was not so keen and called it “… loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, dangerous to the lung …” and increased the tax to 6s 8d (six shillings 8 pence)!
A more regular import of tobacco started in the 17th Century and it was the advent of mass production in the late 19th Century of both cigarettes and matches that lead to a huge increase in smoking as it was no longer restricted to the privileged super-rich.
It was the first half of the 20th Century that saw the next big increase; during the First World War cigarettes were included in army rations and the glamour of Hollywood saw a growth in the number of women smokers. During the Second World War, American soldiers were smoking so much that President Roosevelt made tobacco a protected crop!
Lung cancer linked to smoking
However, by the 1950s it was becoming clear that smoking was a health hazard; of the 650 UK men who died from lung cancer, 95% of them had been smoking for 25 years or more.
Since then there has been a catalogue of attempts to stop people smoking: following the tragedy of the Kings Cross fire in 1987 all smoking and tobacco advertising was banned on the London underground; the National No Smoking Day was launched in 1984 and the tax on tobacco continues to rise above inflation.
More recently there has been significant legislation passed e.g. in October 2007 the permitted age to buy cigarettes was increased from 16 to 18 years old and in the same year, it became illegal to smoke in enclosed public places. The Health Act 2009 prohibits the display of tobacco in ‘large’ stores and ‘small’ stores have until 2015 to comply.
But just how big a problem is it and if it is such a catastrophe to the human race, why don’t the government simply make it illegal?
4,000 chemicals, 50 carcinogens
Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals including over 50 known carcinogens and the carbon dioxide severely reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
The diseases caused by smoking include lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer of the mouth, nose and throat to name but a few.
It also ages the skin, reduces your sense of taste and smell and can lead to impotency and if you smoke whilst pregnant it can affect the baby, from premature delivery and low birth weight to death.
There are around 10 million adult smokers in the UK, the highest concentration in the 20-24 year old bracket.
There continues to be a worrying trend of young people smoking with 11% of 15 year olds and 5% of 11-15 year olds admitting to being regular smokers; there are approximately 150,000 children who start smoking each year.
150,000 children start smoking each year
In December 2012 the government’s £2.7 million advertising campaign included the graphic depiction of cancer cells growing on a cigarette. Then the March 2013 budget increased the tax by 2% making it £7.72 for 20 cigarettes.
But unfortunately with more than ⅓ of smokers believing the risks are exaggerated, the more likely outcome of this tax increase is a rise in the number of cigarettes being smuggled into the UK (currently around 25%), making it cheaper for people to buy and losing the government significant revenue.
So on the basis that it kills and causes debilitating diseases combined with the fact that it is the drug nicotine that is addictive, why not simply make it illegal? Or would that be removing our civil liberty of freedom of choice?
- The treasury earned £12.1 billion in 2011-12 in revenue
- There are around 5,500 people employed by the tobacco industry in the UK
- The cost to the NHS is £2.7 billion
I will leave you to draw your own conclusion.